Current Thinking

“HoloScenes”

a holographic visualization series

holoscenes_05

 

We are all still in the very early days of exploring this game changing medium called Mixed Reality.

These conceptual dives into the world of Holographic Visualization are intended to spark your imagination. Let’s figure out together how we can best take best advantage of this multi-dimensional design space. These pieces fast forward us to a time when we’ll all think nothing of it. It’ll be ubiquitous and quite expected — that’s why the observer can see all of the publicly visible holograms.

A continuing series.

– M. Pell

UPDATE – you can get a behind-the-scenes look at the design process used here by reading The Making of HoloScenes
 



Guest Speaker

“Guest Speaker”

 

 

Next Quarter

 

“Next Quarter”

 

 

In the Data

 

“In the Data”

 

 

Break Time

 

“Break Time”

 

 

Gallery

 

“Gallery”

 

 

 Live from Somewhere

 

 “Live from Somewhere”

 

 

Ready Player One

 

“Ready Player One”

 

 


 

M. Pell

ABOUT THE ARTISTMike Pell is leading Design for The Microsoft Garage, an innovation accelerator turning employee’s wild ideas into reality daily, worldwide. Bold, insightful and uncompromising, Mike is recognized as a thought leader in the field of Holographic Visualization and Smart Information.

Current Thinking, Talks

Interview: “The Moment of Clarity”

The Moment of Clarity

 

< Transcript of PolicyViz episode #41 with Jon Schwabish interviewing Mike Pell >

 

Jon :  Welcome back to the PolicyViz podcast. I’m your host, Jon Schwabish. I’m excited to welcome to the show this week Mike Pell from Microsoft. Mike is a Design Envisioneer, which is an awesome title at Microsoft in a group called The Garage. Mike, welcome to the show.

M. Pell :  Hey, Jon. Thanks for having me on.

 

Jon :  Great to have you on. I want to start by maybe having you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about your background. Then also maybe if can talk a little bit about what you do in The Garage at Microsoft, which in addition to being an awesome personal title, is an awesome name for a group to work in. It just sounds like you’re hanging around with friends building cool stuff. Let’s start there.

 

M. Pell :  That’s exactly what we do, Jon, if you  put it that way. The Garage is really a tiny team, but it represents a giant community around Microsoft worldwide, where we help employees and small teams really follow their passions, whether it has anything to do with their day job or not. We’re trying to help people get their best ideas out in front of other people who can help them develop the idea, and iterate. We collect data and help people move their ideas forward through garage.microsoft.com

We also do lots of internal hackathons. We’re helping to change the culture (of Microsoft), as much as we can. I’m sure you’ve been reading a lot about how Microsoft has changed in the last two years since Satya Nadella took over as CEO. I think The Garage has quite a bit to do with some of that cultural change.

 

Jon :  You’ve been in this space of information visualization, computer graphics for a while. Can you talk quickly a little bit what your career trajectory has been?

M. Pell :  Absolutely. It’s interesting to note that I started off as an artist. When I was going to school for art, I started programming almost by accident. At the time, I thought I could probably make more money doing this programming thing than with art. Luckily, I’ve always been able to do both the design side and the analytics and the coding parts.

I started off way back at the dawn of the Macintosh by founding one of the first Macintosh software companies called Beyond Inc., with Stuart Davison. We learned everything you could learn about running a software company – those were the good old days.

I’ve always been involved in things that were information-based and visual. Over the years, I’ve worked for companies like Adobe, lots of Silicon Valley start-ups, and now Microsoft for the last 15 years. All along the way, I’ve been very, very fortunate to be able to stay in the both design and coding types of jobs.

In The Garage, a lot of the things I do are to help teams assess what type of experience they’re trying to provide for people – whether that’s putting out a Maker recipe through open-source, or an Android or iOS app, or even creating a web service like the new one – Fetch. I don’t know if you saw Fetch; it’s very funny. You can feed it a picture of your dog and it’ll tell you what breed the dog is. Or if you put in a picture of a person, it’ll tell you what kind of dog the person is. That’s the kind of stuff that we do in The Garage, it’s very fun. So, you’re right, we’re having a blast.

 

Jon :  Nice. You’ve been doing this a long time and you’ve seen the transition, as it were, from different types of interfaces. I know you’ve also been working on this idea of how to look at a visualization, or at some data, and get the bottom line, or understand the story right away. I think we were talking about earlier, what you like to call the moment of clarity.

This is a really interesting topic; I think we should spend some time talking about it. How do you define the moment of clarity, how does it differ across the different platforms and ways in which we visualize and collate data?

M. Pell :  Specifically in visualization, there’s a point where we can put together any type of visualization on the spectrum, whether it’s something very factual or something that’s even data art, and identify the moment where the person who’s consuming that piece will either get it hopefully as the author intended or they’ll struggle with what was meant by it. In the time that you’re looking at a piece, whatever it may be, there’s a particular moment where most people will say they got it. It’s the a-ha moment.

As a Designer, or yourself of course, as somebody who does a lot of presentations and talks, you have to try your best to get your points to be very clear. Over my career, I’ve tried to practice what I call radical simplification, where I was getting rid of a lot extraneous things and focus on the clarity aspects.

The fact is people are very, very different. Every situation is different. What emotional state are you in when you’re looking at this. What’s your background? How deep have you been exposed to any of the information before?

The moment of clarity varies from person to person, situation to situation. I’ve always had this hypothesis that we could do a much better job of engineering the moment of clarity, as data scientists, Designers, coders, and people in this community. Whereas I think today we have a one-off approach. There’s a lot of room for us to improve.

 

Jon :  Yeah, so how do you view the different ways in which we communicate data from your one-off graph, which may or may not be static, to a big interactive data tool? How do you get people to that moment of clarity when you have such different ways to communicate data and communicate information?


M. Pell :
 
That’s an excellent question, and that’s exactly the question I asked myself. I’ve been collaborating over the last six months with a guy from the London Business School named Matteo Visentin. Matteo’s a visual designer, but he’s also a behavioral scientist. We’ve been exploring ways to measure and test how people react to the way that data is presented. I don’t want to try to make this into something that’s a template, because I don’t think you can frankly. But, I do think we can put together a set of principles or guidance that can help the authors, individuals and the teams put information together, or the pieces together, to help people get to the moment of clarity perhaps more quickly or efficiently than they have in the past.

There are so many different types of visualizations. There’s the very stock charting and things that you’d find inside of Tableau, or Power BI, or whatever. There’s also pieces that are much more thoughtful. You had Kim Rees on a couple of weeks ago. Certainly the pieces that Periscopic does are quite thoughtful and take a little bit to digest in some ways. Then there’s other pieces that are just purely meant as art. They’re based on real data but it might take some time to soak in, to understand.

For any of those things, the methods that we’ve discovered that you can use really vary from person to person, to the point where we feel like we have to offer multiple ways or multiple dimensions that you can consume this information in. That’s sort of been the key for me – there is no such things as one size fits all as far as moment of clarity goes.

We, as tool builders and platform builders and artists and Designers and data scientists, can do a much better job out of presenting information in ways that allow the person to go in at the altitude that they’re comfortable with. Whether it’s high level summary, low level detail, or how broadly or how narrow they choose to consume it.

 

Jon :  Right. I think that last point is probably part of the key. In some cases, you are putting out a visualization that is for a specific audience. Think of an academic journal. You write your academic journal article. You know that the reader is sophisticated – well maybe a sophisticated reader who knows the field; they’re reading the article for that reason.

Then you have other pieces where you’re trying to hit multiple audiences, or a broader audience. How do you balance trying to meet the needs of all these different audiences with different interests and different skills and different sophistication? How do you get that moment of clarity for different kinds of users? You’ll probably just have the answer for this. (laughs)


M. Pell : 
Well, I kind of think I do. In the long run, the tools and platforms that we use will have the ability to allow you to construct pieces – I’ll just call them pieces of content, whether they’re charts of narratives, PSAs, whatever – that allow the reader, the consumer, to view them and experience them at different altitudes. As the author, you may pick one of those altitudes, let’s say, high level summary, to be the default. But there’s enough data to allow people to drill in. There’s enough cross references and linkages to allow them to explore the periphery and related topics.

I think that in the long run, the tools and platforms are really the things that will allow us to build what I call smart information. These pieces are very fluid and much more malleable in the way they can be consumed. In the short term, I think this comes down, unfortunately, to the authors.

We have to stop producing dead pixels, you know what I mean? We have to stop making things that can’t be explored and prodded and drilled into. I’m not saying you have to provide all of the capabilities of Tableau or something with each piece, but you need to have the ability to consume it in the way that’s right for you. That unfortunately in the short term is going to be on the shoulders of the authors of these things.

 

Jon :  I’m curious, for a while there’s been interactive visualizations, but they’re really static visualizations that have some sort of interactivity just layered on top. It’s a chart with three lines on it where the visualization allows you click a point or a line and it highlights. I wonder whether you think that level of interaction actually helps people get this moment of clarity or if it’s just gratuitous, and going forward whether you think that type of interactivity is not going to be as common? Is it not going to be used as much because it doesn’t necessarily help people better understand, but just allows them really to just play with something?


M. Pell :
 
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I’m pretty against what I call putting different dimensions on rails. Isolating a few variables and letting people move some sliders around. That’s fine if it’s going to help you to get a little bit more of the detail in a piece. Really, it comes back to the design. This is all about people. It’s about what did the author or the team thinks the outcome of this is going to be. What were they trying to get across? Were they trying to be completely factual?

Let’s take, for example, how the New York Times is going to present an election result. They would like to be as factual as humanly possible in the presentation of that information, versus – well let’s take something like Periscopic’s gun piece that to me is more like a PSA. There’s a message there – intentional. They’re not hitting you over the head with it, but it’s pretty clear what their point of view was. As the authors, as the creators of information, we really need to focus on what we’re trying to get across.

I’m very fond of saying “just tell me”. When you’re designing a visualization, just tell me. Don’t make me sit there for minutes or hours trying to figure out what you’re trying to tell me because of the way that you’ve chosen to depict something. Oftentimes, we have been skewing towards beauty or visual interest rather than being clear.

Being clear is hard. You know this. You have to present all the time. It’s very hard to be clear and concise in a short amount of time. Yet, you sort of have to isolate that. You need to figure out what is it that’s the most valuable thing to get across to people. How can you do that without ruining the aesthetic or the artistic integrity of a piece that you’re working on?

 

Jon :  Where do you think that line exists between the clarity of presenting information and design? I’ll give you an example. I was re-reading a Medium post earlier today by Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viégas. I think it was early last year, critiquing the data visualization field. One of the examples they showed was a sort-of radial chart of things going on in the Middle East. You had ten or so countries going around a circle in a big radial chart. Alberto Cairo from Miami had redesigned it as more of a dot plot or a column chart. It got rid of the circles part because his argument was, well you don’t really —

M. Pell :  Circles are evil. (laughs)

 

Jon :   Circles are evil, right. You see these sorts of things all the time. Let’s get rid of the circles and let’s use the bar charts. Sometimes there’s an aesthetic beauty to it or something that’s attractive, but it’s not necessarily allowing you to dig in and see all the detail and all the minutia of the data. I’m curious, how do you think about the balance between the aesthetic that pulls the reader in versus maybe more something a lot clearer because it has bars instead of circles?

 

M. Pell :  Well, quite often I talk about being beautifully clear. I completely agree with Alberto most of the time about trying to get back to the most clean and accurate representation of data as you can. But, you have to have some form of aesthetic or visual interest or people will just blow by it. Why would you even bother to stop to look at another line chart? Who cares? That said, there is a lot of room to introduce emphasis through call-outs, through the way it’s laid out, through helping people focus on the important parts of the chart.

I came across something on Flowing Data. Nathan Yau was talking about a “taxi ride volume during the Super Bowl” chart that had come out in The Upshot. Super interesting, it was a great example of helping people focus on an important piece of information. Right in the middle of this histogram-looking chart, it says, “Katy Perry half-time show.” This is back when the Seahawks and Patriots were playing in the Super Bowl last year. At half-time, you’d see there are not a lot of taxi rides going on because of the very exciting half-time show with Katy Perry that people were watching.

The thing that was very subtle in this was at the very end of the game, all Seattle Seahawk fans remember very horribly, there was an interception to end it. Then all of a sudden, there’s this giant spike in taxi rides after that because the fans were all like, “Oh, this game’s over with.” But, you know what? In that chart, I didn’t recognize the game ending moment because it all looked fairly normal. It was missing the most super-interesting thing to me as a Seahawks fan. There was no call-out for that. There was just a little thin gray line.

There was an opportunity there for the chart author to help me focus on the important parts of the data, without taking a point of view, without having an opinion about it.

I think we miss a lot of opportunities to point out the interesting parts of things. Maybe it’s not with circles, but the fact is, as Designers, as data scientists, as people trying to get this information across, we can’t be afraid to point what our insights tell us. A lot of times, people shy away from that. They’re trying to be too factual. They’re afraid to as some will call it embellishing. It’s not embellishing, it’s actually clarifying if you ask me.

 

Jon :  Right, so you don’t let the data speak on its own; you help it out a little bit. You help the reader out a little bit.

M. Pell :  Yes, because in this day and age, who has time to sit there and try to understand, try to dissect everything. It may not be your field of expertise – you may just be looking at something casually. Yet, the author would really like you to come away with something. Very often we miss that opportunity.

 

Jon :  It’s interesting the way you talk about communicating data and information. You have this emphasis of talking about the user being a person, the reader as a person, the person who created it as a person. It calls back to an earlier episode of the podcast with Kim Rees and Mushon, where we were talking about empathy and data visualization. I wonder what you think about trying to get readers to really connect with the visualization and connect with the data and feel something.

I think there are different kinds of visualizations that get us to feel. Maybe in the taxi cab example we feel something because we all watch the Super Bowl, and a visualization on some microbiology thing that only four people in the world understand is a different type of thing.

What is the impact, or what is the effect of drawing out emotion and drawing out empathy? How important is that when people are creating visualizations and trying to tell stories with their data?

 

M. Pell :  Hugely important, absolutely hugely important. As a Designer, I’m all about people and emotion and understanding what people are thinking and feeling, and trying to use it. As Kim mentioned a few weeks ago, even as a data scientist, she’s not opposed to trying to draw on emotion to get people engaged. This is hugely important. I am also a big fan of persuasion. A lot of people would say “there’s no room for persuasion in data visualization”. I would say that’s nonsense. People even like to call it data storytelling sometimes.

The fact is we should employ all of those methods and tools and all of those techniques that the great storytellers and playwrights and people who make movies have used for so many decades, to try to get whatever that is that’s important. As an author, I’m for whatever helps get my point across, so let’s use everything at our disposal.

As Designers, we’re not above lying, cheating and stealing to get our point across. I think the same holds true in any type of information communication, information visualization, or data visualization for that matter. We need to draw on all the talent and all techniques we have to get our points across. I don’t think you’re going to bias somebody too much, unless you actually try to do so. If you try to be completely persuasive and you’re trying to really overtly twist the data to support your point of view, that’s another thing.

If that’s what you want them to do then great, go do it. If you’re just trying to present information clearly, I do think there is a big need to draw on the people part of it, on the emotional part.

 

Jon :  You touched on a couple of things there. Persuasion has this negative connotation to it, but visualizations are almost always trying to persuade people that the thing that they’re showing is true. The unemployment rate is going down. This thing is going up. There’s all levels of persuasion. I guess the difference is whether you’re being honest with the data; trying to persuade someone that your perspective is correct, given that you are using the data honestly. Then there’s persuasion where you’re distorting the data, either visually or in the way you’ve created the final product with the data itself and you’ve distorted it in different ways.

I’m also curious, when it comes to persuasion, when it comes to getting people to connect emotionally to visualization, how important it is to connect at the individual level. You’ve mentioned the Periscopic guns piece. One thing about the guns visualization is that it has a line for each individual in their data set. How important is it for a creator to convey those individual stories, and maybe not always aggregate into six bars? Show more of the individual observations, the individual stories.


M. Pell :
 
Again, it’s always context-dependent. Whenever possible, I would always tend to try to connect with the individual person, whether it’s in the data or consumption. If I’m talking about a very big concept or very difficult world issues and I can’t make a personal connection with what you’re telling me, then chances are I’m going to move on to something else. Super-important for you, the author, to try to get me interested as an individual in what you]re talking about so I can dig in and get all the benefits of what you’re trying to do.

In some cases, I don’t think it’s possible to involve an individual person as well as the Periscopic piece did. There’s a certain point where you have to abstract things. So, why not use other elements. Not every data visualization has to be on a plain white background. There’s a lot of things that we can do from the design aspect – from sound and motion, to the way that it’s staged. All the cinematic elements come into play.

Even going back to that Periscopic piece as an example, the very beginning is very cinematic – dark background, things start happening very slowly, and then the data starts to draw itself. It’s a story unfolding. All of a sudden, I get the moment of clarity because at about the sixth person as it starts to accelerate it hits me. Wow, they’re talking about a ton of people dying and so much tragedy in loss of years of life. It gets you in a cinematic way.

Perhaps even the most mundane, straight up, data-pure type of representation could actually be presented to help make an individual connection with me the consumer. For example, as we were talking about before the show, things like SandDance use every single pixel on the screen to represent a unique piece of data, which may be a person.

 

Jon :  For those that don’t know, SandDance is the new visualization project from Microsoft Research and The Garage. Do you want to talk about it real quickly before we wrap up for people who haven’t seen it or heard of it yet?

 

M. Pell :  Sure. SandDance is a really great piece of visualization work done by Steven Drucker and Roland Fernandez at Microsoft Research that you’ll be able to play around with for free. They have been working on this for years to help people more easily explore data. To me, it’s a great example of a new genre of tool at our disposal called a data explorer. It’s super fluid in order to make it easy to move through data sets. You can look at your own data or play around with data sets that are already built in.

SandDance allows you to look at things very quickly, move on, explore, play what-if, and try different things out superfast in a way that we’ve never been able to do before. They’ve constructed this tool in a way that can be extended and are going to continue to iterate on it and experiment. It’s really about helping the visualization community try out new ideas, and hopefully tell better stories with data when they’re using that particular approach.

 

Jon :  Great. Well, on that note of new tools to explore and trying to maybe be a little bit more aesthetic and beautiful in our visualizations, even with the boring stuff, Mike, I want to thank you for coming on the show. This has been really interesting.

M. Pell :  Thank you, Jon.

 

[ Editor’s note: light editing of the transcription was required to make this more readable ]

 

policyviz© Copyright 2016 PolicyViz

 

 

Data Art

“Datascrapers” – a data art series

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“The Outlier”

This artwork series “Datascrapers” was inspired by using the experimental data explorer called “SandDance” from The Microsoft Garage, and by the skyscrapers of my beloved NYC.

All of the individual cubes within the Datascraper shapes are single data points from the same data set. These images are actual data visualizations of that real data set, interpreted as art. The colors and perspectives are all from exploring the data within SandDance. The concepts represented are partially from the world of data science mixed with the architecture of the city.

First in a continuing series, you can explore larger versions of the pieces below by just touching any of them, or checkout this PDF gallery.

 

Mike Pell

 


 

“Datascrapers”

 

bigquoteData is as much Art as Science in my eyes.
– M. Pell

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“Underlying Data”

 

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“The United Cubes of America”

 

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“The One Percent”

 

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“The Emerald Data”

 

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“Stacked Gold”

 

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“Points of Interest”

 

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“Low Income Data”

 

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“Diablo Towers”

 

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“Datacenter”

 

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“Data Island”

 

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“Data Blade”

 

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“Data Array”

 

 

M. Pell - FUTURISTIC.COM

“The Outlier”

 

 

All artwork Copyright © 2016  Mike Pell, All Rights Reserved

http://www.futuristic.com

 

 

 

 

 

Books

Book Review: “The Truthful Art” by Alberto Cairo (2016)

 

The Truth About Visualization

Book Review: “The Truthful Art” by Alberto Cairo (2016)

TheTruthfulArt

In the second installment of his epic data visualization trilogy, Alberto Cairo has delivered what all of us who work in the field (or aspire to) desperately needed – a shared conscience, based on integrity.

 


bigquoteTruth is neither absolute, nor relative.
– Alberto Cairo


 

As he so eloquently states in Chapter 3, “Truth is neither absolute, nor relative.” Ouch. That sentence hits as hard as a sledgehammer for the visualizer or journalist who hasn’t applied the proper amount of rigor and duty to their craft as they should. Thank you Alberto for calling us out on our less than truthful (i.e. sloppy) work. And, for further demonstrating throughout the book how to approach the entire visualization process from initial thought to final execution.

The Truthful Art’s greatest gift to the reader is not teaching us how to visualize expertly (which it does), but rather giving us all a true North Star for how to think about our work, every day, every time. No matter how skilled or artful we may become as data visualizers, the truth takes no shortcuts or holidays. Alberto reminds us that neither should we, and lays out a framework for how to apply the critical thought and preparation required to communicate data clearly.

More personal than his previous book (and nothing like a college textbook), we are treated to his lighthearted stories that make key points, and also his famously pointed insights (as his students and Twitter followers know so well). Reading through The Truthful Art feels like you’ve been transported to one of Alberto’s extended lectures or a master class on how to convey information with piercing clarity that exudes trust.

Make no mistake, this book is an excellent tour of data science and visualization foundations and techniques, but for us practitioners, it will be recognized as the clarion call for truth and scientific rigor in our visualization work. People deserve no less.

Don’t buy this book to learn how to become a data visualizer.
Read this book to understand how the best ones think.

 

Mike Pell

 

Current Thinking

Who really “owns” Design?

GoldenGateOfDesignOwnership.jpg

Yeah. Exactly.

It’s a ridiculous question, I know. Design is so important to every aspect of what we do in the tech industry, it’s almost inconceivable this is even a discussion still. But, as we all know – everyone seems to be an expert on Design these days, so here we are sorting out who is actually responsible for a team’s decisions around Design strategy and execution. Should be really clear, right?

 

Who really “owns” Design?

The answer couldn’t be more simple…

The CEO, right?   no.
Product Manager?   no.
Design Agency we hired?   definitely not.
Our in-house Designer?   close, but no.
The Dev team?   ugh.

 


bigquoteNo one person or group owns Design.


 

Design is bigger than any single person on the team or discipline in your org. It’s never completely conveyed in sketches and prototypes. Design is the sum total of every thought and every decision made from project inception to delivery. The final design decisions and implementation are merely a snapshot in time of a complex series observations and decisions made by a lot of people. Saying that someone “owns” that snapshot is far too simplistic.

Hold up, you say. If we’re lucky enough to work with a good Designer or Agency, they must surely be responsible for the Design decisions across the board. Right?

Uh… no.

 


bigquoteIt’s every person’s job to positively affect the shape and feel of the overall experience and end-to-end interaction.


Whether you’re in a startup, big corporation, or a non-profit, everyone has something to contribute to the Design of our dreams and aspirations. Your input could come in the form of suggesting clever copy, noticing something is misaligned, finding a more authentic image to use, increasing perf by 2x, or realizing the boss was being a lemming when they suggested it needed to be blue.

Given all that input from the team, someone must be responsible for making Design decisions, right?

Yes, there are actually trained professionals who know better than most how to blend those ideas and suggestions together into a cohesive whole and craft a memorable story – they just happen to be called Designers.

So, are you saying Designers own Design then?

No. But, Designers are the best people to help coordinate, shape, and execute an authentic experience for your team and are certainly worth their weight in gold for their ability to empathize with your customers. They don’t just deliver artwork – they synthesize experiences. Just ask ’em. It’s their role to know how to federate and focus all the input, and they should be held responsible for performing it like a killer. We all have roles to play in our team’s success, theirs is to synthesize the best Design possible given your input, the context, timing, and audience.

OK, got it. I own Design then.

Kinda. Everyone should feel like they own Design, because you do in many ways. But, leave out the word “own” and try saying “I am responsible for our Design as much as anyone on the team.” Then go act on it. Be passionate about delivering the best experience possible. Don’t just leave it to someone else to figure out. You are as much a part of a successful Design as the person doing the final execution.

 


bigquoteWe are all responsible and accountable for Design.



Really, it’s true. And it shows when we get it right.

 

Mike Pell

 

Read more

 

 

 

 

Current Thinking

2015 : MIKE PELL

I’m feeling pretty good today – 2015 was a great year for me personally and I got to do a bunch of traveling. As much as I’m looking forward to 2016, it’s worth it for me to take a quick look back at the last year. It took me around the country and across the ocean to do some talks and meet many of you at some great events. Except for this one map viz, I think photos will tell the story just fine.

 

2015_trips_MPell

Jet

Alot of my year looked like this. Some of the places I’ve been to this last year…

Seattle, New York City, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Atlanta, State College, Scranton, Vancouver BC, Minneapolis, Portland, Phoenix, Toronto, Denver, Boston, Seoul.

 

 


JAN

NYC_01

Spent the first day of 2015 in my beloved New York City, walking the streets of Times Square and other parts of Manhattan in search of my favorite food. Can’t start the year off any better.

 


FEB

UCBerkeley

Got a chance to visit UC Berkeley to see the SWARM Lab’s work on IoT.

 

Stanford

But, just missed out on seeing the Stanford d.school facility. Next time.

 

SiliconValley_02

And what trip to Silicon Valley would be complete without a swing by the McLaren dealership.

 


MAR

Tapestry

My 48 hour trip to the Tapestry conf near Atlanta was a fun blur, but even more important…

DeltaUSB

…I discovered that Delta flights have USB chargers in the seat backs. OMG. Thank you.

 


APR

GoogleSDC

Back to Silicon Valley where I spotted a real Google self driving car in the wild. Scary.

 


MAY

VancouverElevator

Up to Vancouver BC to teach a “Fast Design” workshop, where I find the greatest elevator UI of all time in my hotel.

 


JUN

EyeoMinneapolis_02

Really enjoyed being in Minneapolis again for the Eyeo Festival. Great talks on every aspect of Viz.

 

EyeoMinneapolis_03

Found the steakhouse that’s the top seller in the whole country of my fav Knob Creek Bourbon. Trust me, neither is to be missed.

Portland

Then back home and a quick trip down to Portland to enjoy the NW summer a bit.

 


JUL

WorldFuture2015

Gave a talk called “The Future of Making” at the World Future Society’s conference Making the Future in San Francisco.

UnionSquare

Love and miss that city. Met some incredible people, and spent time with some old friends.

SteveJurvetsonWFS

Even got a chance to catch Steve Jurvetson live at the WFS conf. Mindblowingly smart guy.

 

oneweekHackathonRedmond_02

And got to design and help run the world’s largest Hackathon (for Microsoft //oneweek) in Redmond and 80 other cities around the world.

 


AUG

Scottsdale

Made my annual trip to the Arizona desert for some floating around the pool in Scottsdale.

Scottsdale117

Don’t worry. It was only 115 in the shade.

 


SEP

Toronto

Toronto_02

Had the pleasure to visit Toronto to give the talk “The Age of Smart Signage” at the DSrupted 2015 conf. Great city. Had a blast.

 


OCT

Boston

Quick trip to visit the Microsoft campus in Boston. Fun time in Harvard Square.

 

MIT_MediaLab

Finally got a chance to visit the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA. This has been on my list for decades. Didn’t disappoint.

 

NYC

NYC_04

Headed back to NYC for the Visualized conference in the Times Building. Always the best few days of the year.

 


NOV

Denver_02

Denver

Finally made it to Denver to give the talk “Visualizing Business” at the inaugural Forward conf. Had a great time with my friends at FWI.

 

Seoul_01

And can’t forget my first trip to Seoul. Incredible place to visit.

Seoul_02

Seoul_03

Did a talk called “Rethinking Mobile” at the Global Leaders Forum for TV Chosun. Had the best hosts and met some great new friends.

 


DEC

SEA_VR_2015

Back to Seattle for the SEA VR 2015 conf. Didn’t realize there’s a big community here trying to make VR happen.

 

 

Fun to look back quickly, but it’s on to 2016.
Don’t think I’ll be traveling as much, but I’m pretty sure the best is yet to come.

Mike Pell

Talks

Future of Making

slides and commentary from a talk at the World Future 2015 conference

hosted by World Future Society
San Francisco, CA
July 24, 2015

thx again to Nancy Giordano and Amy Zalman for the invite!



FutureOfMaking
SPOILER ALERT: “Making” leads to giant fire breathing robots :/



TALK SUMMARY

 

The Future of Making

has nothing to do with killer inventions (nano, bio, or otherwise),
is not about personal manufacturing,
doesn’t depend on 3D printing or Steampunk,
and definitely doesn’t involve drones.

So, if it’s not about technology, process, or even toolsets –
what’s the deal?

The Future of Making is all about people.

And to get specific, it’s really about human ingenuity and the desire to move our ideas forward by making them real.

 


bigquoteThe Future of Making is about people.
It’s always about the people.


 

SLIDES AND COMMENTARY

Rather than pretend I can see into the future and report back on what exactly the Future of Making will be…

Slide2

…I would rather share with you what I have observed every day over the last year being immersed in Hack culture and Making within The Microsoft Garage. I’m in the ring for what’s happening internally and also with external partners who hack their way forward. Every day is different in The Garage, and that’s exactly how it should be.

I’ll also use this opportunity to pose some questions that hopefully you can help answer. Make sense?

And frankly, if I were to predict the Future of Making, it would be this:

Slide3
Yes, that’s right. Making leads directly to giant fire-breathing robots roaming the Playa.

 

But, I digress… what became really clear was the following:

Slide6

Slide8

Slide10

Slide13

You just can’t get away from it – Making is always about the people.
And specifically the human ingenuity shown by those passionate people.

No amount of anything will ever outshine the awesome power of a single determined person to do whatever they are truly passionate about.

We are at our best we when create and share with our communities.

Making is us at our best.

 


Q: So, what’s this “Making” about anyway?

For those who aren’t plugged into or that aware of Making yet, here’s a super quick overview of where we’re at today. This will gloss over some important things of course, but you’ll get the gist. I also tend to use the terms “Making” and “Hacking” pretty interchangeably, but experts know the subtleties. And no, Hacking isn’t bad in this context – it’s about taking something forward in any way you can, not necessarily the “right” way.



 
A REPORT FROM THE FIELD

Slide15

What I’d consider Making is all around us, and always has been. You can trace this kind of “create what you need yourself” mindset and making behavior back to the Stone Age. We all do this in some way in our daily lives already – it’s nothing thar new or shocking. But, what is fascinating about it is the pure joy and exhilaration you see on the faces of the people when they’re doing it.

 

Slide16

“Making” is really just what others call “Do It Yourself” (DIY), and feels like it resides at the intersection of technology and social activities. Don’t believe the hype – it’s not a new trend or disruptive movement. It’s just people doing what they’ve always done – dreaming up fantastic things to create and making them real. Anyone who wants to customize something they already own to get it just the way they want it are essentially hacking or making by my definition. It’s not a big deal.

 

Slide17

In a larger setting, there’s something more viscerally satisfying about Making than just coding or even winning a heated debate with your team. It’s that super satisfying feel of doing something with your hands, not just your mind. Kids as always put us all to shame with their ability to leap forward and fearlessly embrace the discovery and wonderment of not knowing how to do something just before it happens.

 

Slide18

Making definitely has a “hacking apart” component to it in many cases. Making favors the curious. Several years ago, some folks from Make: magazine published a manifesto of sorts about what Makers would like to see manufacturers of goods provide (or at least tolerate). Chief among the points cited was the assertion that being able to open up, explore, modify, and customize anything we own is expected. From their perspective, it sounds like a missing inalienable right in the US Constitution.

Makers gonna make.
Makers gonna break.

 

Slide19

Just as most Makers scoff at the notion that simply “investigating” something voids its warranty, the idea that you wouldn’t share their software coding discoveries and tips with other Makers is practically unheard of. Sharing knowledge with the worldwide community of like-minded explorers is central to Making. It’s more than important, it’s necessary to move the art forward. As such, the Open Source community is embraced and enriched with Maker’s treasures. Services like Git are a lifeline of ideas and enabling technology for people all over the world to trade and learn from each other.

 

Slide20

Lots of projects involve the need for electronics, sensors, and some amount of coding. High-powered computers now come on tiny little circuit boards. Not just chipsets mind you, but complete systems with I/O ports and video capabilities on something no bigger than a deck of playing cards. It’s actually astonishing how small these can get, but more astonishing what Makers can do with them. These “brains” of DIY projects are where alot of the action is these days (the Arduino and Raspberry Pi 2 are pictured above).

Figuring out how to combine microcontrollers with custom fabricated parts, sensors, software services, and good old ingenuity is fueling something equivalent to what must have been happening during the beginning of the industrial revolution. Rapid progress on all fronts. Miniaturization continues on.

 

Slide21_b

One of the more interesting changes in people’s behavior is associated with Making – there’s a 180 degree turn in the practice of recycling of certain metals and materials. Rather than sending things off to the recycler (“Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.”), Makers are opting to keep metal and certain plastics to use for their projects – effectively doing better than recycling (“Reduce. Reuse. Remake.”). Remains to be seen how widespread and impactful this practice becomes, but we are re-learning to create rather than recycle without thinking.

 

Slide23

Another fundamental part of Making is sharing “recipes” with the community, much like you find in the Open Source movement with code (but a little different). Instead of others directly consuming and improving upon your software code, Makers often use these step-by-step recipes found on sites like instructables.com as a starting point for a new hack or project that takes them in a completely new tangent – often not to return anywhere near the starting point. There are thousands and thousands of freely available starting points that provide stepping stones and fuel the dreams of Makers worldwide.

 

So, that’s the quick rundown.
Making is in great shape in 2015.

 


Q: What are some key insights about Making?

Again, I can’t say that I know exactly what the future holds for Making and its effect on society, but I can tell you how Makers are affecting the culture of huge multi-national corporations and startups alike.


 

OBSERVATION #1

Slide25o

You can’t miss the fact that people are incredibly ingenious when there’s something truly important at stake. The most amazing ideas and inventions come from need and the passion to do something about it.

For example, behold the single greatest human invention of the 21st century:

Slide26

Slide27

Incredibly versatile and valuable beyond belief – the “Guac Hat” not only stores and serves delicious guacamole from it’s hatband, but it’s an edible serving container that also provides shade to keep you cool. I know. Awesome.


bigquoteYes, that’s right – the “Guac Hat” is the most ingenious invention of the last decade. You can quote me on this.


Whoever invented the Guac Hat for the Despicable Me 2 movie may have been a screenwriter, but they used a Maker mindset to hack together existing elements to create something totally new and innovative. That’s what Makers do all the time. What probably started as a joke must have blown away anyone who later saw the storyboards. Why? That initial (and fleeting) feeling of brilliance and victory when a great idea becomes tangibly real can’t be beat.

You see this kind of “creation wonder” every day around children. Kids are natural Hackers and Makers. It’s not even a remote consideration that doing something new and fun could result in failure. Who cares? They are mesmerized by the most simple things because they see the possibilities. Look into their faces and see wheels turning and the endless possibilities in their eyes. We forget too easily that wonder of exploring.

Slide28

This will sound ridiculously cliche, but it’s true – any kid’s actions when allowed to be creative are the best model for our future workplace behaviors. Fearless. Fun seeking. Brilliant.

Slide29

We’ll eventually wise up and realize that turning people loose to create rather than trying to keep them constrained to predetermined “innovation” plans is the way to enable true breakthroughs. Kids do it all the time. Just watch ’em and you’ll see it right before your eyes.

 

Q: Could we get anything done if Makers ran the world?

What do you think would happen if your organization expected you and everyone else to constantly try to create new things rather than refine the existing?

Right. Anarchy. World collapse. I get it.

No, really. Would fostering continual creativity and experimentation completely disrupt and wreck the status quo, or would it result in better people and organizations?

 


OBSERVATION #2

Slide32o

Every human is born curious and able to create. We all know how to draw instinctively. Early communication draws on creative thought. Put a bunch of kids in the same place with a few objects for them to play with, explore, and try out in their own way. It’s amazing what you see.

 

Slide33

It’s not until we get into formal education systems that creation and invention is relegated to a secondary or non-existent activity. We all started out as Makers and had it stripped away in our early lives in favor of memorization, standardized learning, and sticking to the expected behavior and rules.

 

Which of course leads to adult lives like this…

Slide34

But, not in every case. Change is underway .
We are (re)volving back to creators instead of just consumers.

There are places all over the world where organizations and communities foster creativity through “Maker spaces” like this one in The Microsoft Garage. A place where any employee can follow their passion and create whatever they want, many of the projects having little relation to company business – but hugely valuable in developing skills they will take back to their teams.

Slide35

Slide59

 

When that level of creativity is encouraged, people can move quickly toward the next logical step…

Slide36

Yes, that’s right – this all leads to creating giant fire-breathing dragons to ride around the Burning Man playa on. It’s all good. Shows up on the bottom line. Really.

 

Q: What’s the real ROI from Making in business?

Truthfully, return on investment is a difficult metric to quantify accurately when it comes to instilling Maker culture in an organization. It’s clear there is value – but it does not always come in the form of attributable revenue or more IP. The people part is easier – seeing how people tend to be more engaged and energized in their regular activities when they participate in Making projects happens all the time. Occasionally, there is the direct conversion from hacking to monetized product. Those projects are incredibly exciting for everyone involved, and pay dividends in so many ways we tend to try and repeat them. But, we all know you can’t force innovation.

 


OBSERVATION #3

Slide39o

Let’s just get this out of the way quickly – traditional manufacturing will not be displaced by Making and 3D Printers in every home. Manufacturers are not stupid. They’re seeing all the same things we’re seeing, and they are figuring out how to stay profitable and competitive in this changing landscape.

But, what is true is that Making and Hack culture already have and will continue to greatly influence traditional manufacturing processes and approach, and most importantly – consumer expectations for customization and personalization.

 

Historically, Designers of things were separated by multiple barriers of various types from the actual manufacturing process.

DesignToFab

Now, Designers (or anyone for that matter) can have their own personal manufacturing capabilities anywhere they are.

Slide42

 

People want what they want. And we’re getting pickier all the time. The highly personalized products and services that result from taking a Maker’s approach are so highly desirable to many consumers that Manufacturers are working overtime trying to figure out how to provide customization or personalization while generating enough profit to stay in business.

 

Another HUGE aspect of this manufacturing transformation is found in field of materials design and research. Do a web search for the term “transmaterial” and you’ll find some of the most inspiring work imaginable.

Slide43

 

The foundational elements of building and manufacturing any type of structure or product are being hacked and reimagined as we speak. These new visions of building blocks mashup aspects and attributes from across many fields to form entirely new elements for the manufacturing process.

Slide45

Slide44

Hacker Architects are reimagining their creations and brainstorming with Transmaterials in mind. Maker culture has influenced them in ways we don’t see yet. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s architects and builders do with the influence of hack culture.

 

Q: Will we all have 3D printers in our homes?

Perhaps when the price drops to that of an inkjet printer, but more importantly are we prepared for personal manufacturing to go so far that we need to post warnings in our own homes about the machines we have laying around?

Some people would have us think we’re talking about nothing more than fancy printers. But, the reality is that even those can be harmful to our health, nevermind the caution needed when operating the equivalent of power tools.

But, then again – when’s the last time you cared if the microwave was killing you?

 


SIGNIFICANT TREND #4

trend5

As with anything this fun, there can certainly be a dark side. Makers are smart and super creative people who don’t always act responsibly with their hacks. We see articles just about daily now about how people are putting others at risk and just outright invading people’s privacy and property.

Slide75

How long until some Maker just having some fun sends a drone to see what’s for dinner at your place? How long until you seriously consider buying a gun to shoot it out of the sky next time it comes around?

Slide47

Exactly. Why did I want a hacked up robot helping me around the office again?

 


OBSERVATION #5 (THE BIG ONE)

Slide48o

Enterprises and other organizations can’t handle the truth – they are not flexible enough to harness the power of or understand the impact of having with Makers in the workforce. And to make things worse, some of their employees and staff are already practicing Makers who don’t play by the corporate rules.

 

This trend of Makers and Hackers surfacing within companies is causing workforce disruption because the hackers mindset is so counter to standard, never mind agile and lean.

Slide49

 

Most companies of any size say they want innovation and disruption to their marketplaces, but the fact is they have no idea what that looks like or how it will impact how things are done within their orgs.

True hack culture and Maker mentality is super messy and counter to the orderly and controlled project management processes that normally exist. Even startups that move quickly as their M.O. have trouble when Hackers and Makers are unleashed to do their thing for “real” projects.

That difference in action between Makers and their Agile or Lean counterparts in “enlightened” organizations is an issue. Makers and all about doing, not talking (or even planning for that matter). Agile is about doing but not before organizing and talking about it a bit. That’s a bigger shift than you might think in practice.

 

DocBrownAndMartyMcFly

And for management, it’s super scary to turn people loose to just build something without a whole lot of agreement never mind consensus on what the outcome will be. Really freaks some management folks out. Definitely not for everyone.

 

As an example of the tension present in dealing with this, let’s take the bios of two hot prospects that your headhunter has turned over for you to consider hiring for a position on your team…

Slide54

The first bio proudly mentions creating LED space helmets, costuming for Burning Man, and performance art. The second candidate is into lasers, robots, electronics hacking, and making self driving cars.

Tough choice right?

This is the new employee. Get used to it. They are super talented, don’t fit neatly into boxes or holes, and certainly are not going to follow procedures and existing process “just because that’s how we’ve always done it”. That’s a good one.

So, how are we going to deal with Makers in the workforce?
That’s the Billion dollar question. We know most companies don’t know how to integrate people with the Hacker mentality and Maker attitude very well, and indications are it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Talk to anyone under 25 today and you’ll find that in addition to not being understood by their employers, they have little empathy for people in those orgs who solely focus on one thing at a time. Now ask them if they feel like their talents and skills are being utilized. Yeah. That was an involuntary laugh.

Slide71

Meet your new star employees :-)

And yes, they will all be out the office the last week of August each year at Burning Man. Sorry. That’s just the price of progress.

 


 


Q: What key trends has Making triggered?

The good news is that two major movements are starting to address the uncomfortable fit of Hackers and Makers in the enterprise and any size organization for that matter. Top universities are pioneering undergrad programs that turn out super well-rounded students who employ Design thinking and hands-on Making as an integral part of their education. And second, corporations and startups alike are providing employees with the time and facilities to Make at work.


 

SIGNIFICANT TREND #1

trend3

Some of the top universities in the country (and world) are actually hacking their own degree programs to produce Makers.

After noticing how organizations are at odds with how the workforce of the future is shaping up, major universities around the country have started to hack and retool their own approach to undergrad education and how their product (students) are prepared and delivered into the jobs marketplace. It’s no accident that the schools at the forefront of this are clustered around Silicon Valley. Goes without saying that schools like MIT and Carnegie Mellon are also addressing this in their programs, but the schools shown below are deep into the transition already.

Design Thinking, Making, Hacking, and Cross-Discipline exposure are now all core components of these elite education programs. That trend is bound to trickle down to most every other major engineering, business, and design program in the country. I have no doubt that many schools throughout the world are already deep into this work, too.

 

Slide50

Historically, the major degree programs at higher education institutions were just as silo’ed as the discipline teams we find out in the business world. Engineering, Business, and Design typically exist in their own departments, despite no one being able to function that way any longer in the real world. We are all having to work across departments and disciplines every day – so these institutions have devised a way forward where these are blended.

 

Slide53

We often refer to the cross-discipline approach to work and problem solving as blending previously separate disciplines into a “BXT” (Business, Experience, and Technology) point of view. We try to look at things from many different angles and weight the options from different viewpoints to take action.

 

BXT_mashup

The revamped degree programs at these institutions are taking that approach now also and immersing their students in true cross-discipline work as a regular matter of course. It’s such a great change to match their students skillset upon graduation to what’s required by employers right away. Almost wish I could go back to school just to experience these classes.

 

UC Berkeley launched a brand new program and physical building dedicated to Making within their Engineering School. It’s called the Jacobs Center for Design Innovation. @JacobsDesignCal

The Stanford D.school is integrating Engineering and Rapid Prototyping into their Design Thinking curriculum to provide students with a super immersive, well-rounded business experience. @stanforddschool

The California College of the Arts has already deeply integrated Design and Engineering into their core MBA program for the last several years. @CACollegeofArts

 

This change in the elite programs of higher education is turning out product that is super well-rounded in BXT and much closer to being exactly what employers can put to use immediately. Can’t wait to see how these programs continue to evolve and influence newer efforts.

 

Q: Sounds great. What’s the problem?

Too many employers don’t know what to do with this hybrid type of college recruit or industry hire. That disconnect between Maker ability/desire and the org’s needs is cause for concern. This new breed of students don’t fit neatly into the preexisting boxes and slots we have developed over the years. They don’t exist in just one discipline – they are super well-rounded and expect to work across many different areas – causing all kinds of difficulties for the org in terms of fit and expectations. Companies need to pay attention here – adapt or face losing the brightest candidates and existing people.

squarepeg

 


SIGNIFICANT TREND #2

trend 4

Organizations of all sizes are investing significant resources and facilities to create Maker Spaces for their employees to use whenever they like. This one is really accelerating across the world. Schools are also doing this at a healthy clip.

 

Slide58

Some spaces are filled with the standard issue Maker tools and machinery (like The Microsoft Garage – above), and others are outfitted with the absolute top-of-the-line to push and explore on a whole different scale (like AutoDesk – below)

Slide61

The point here isn’t the size of the toys or the electric bill, but rather that people are being encouraged to create things that have little to do with their day jobs by their companies in the name of growth and experimentation.

It’s not a clever ploy to mine their employee’s IP (in most cases), but rather a recognition that tangible benefits occur when you let people make.

 


 


Q: Where does all this Making take us?

We talked about this at the start. Despite being a futurist, I can’t predict exactly what the outcome of all this Making will be. That said, there are strong indicators in the observed trends that when we integrate Hack culture and Making into education and carry it through to the workplace, fantastic things will always happen.

Most notably, the number of fire breathing machines increases…

Slide77

 

But, more importantly we leave the future of our planet in the hands of those who will continuously dream, create, and share their ideas with others for the pure joy of Making them real.

Slide78

 

The Future of Making is all about people.

Mike Pell

 


 

ABOUT
Mike Pell leads the Design effort in The Microsoft Garage, which helps turn employee’s wild ideas into reality worldwide.

more at futuristic.com


All images copyright their respective owners. All rights reserved.

Talks

(Design conference talk proposal) “Designers: Adapt or Die.”

DesignAndCode_header

ABSTRACT

The game has changed for all of us. If you are a Designer, now is the time to adapt and evolve by learning how to design *and* code, or face becoming irrelevant to teams and clients. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

This Design talk is meant to be a wake up and call-to-action for Designers of all experiences to look more closely at the trends happening in tech that lead to their marginalization.

We’re all right in the midst of a colossal shift to a Maker/Hacker mindset and approach to just about everything we do – whether that be creating products, providing services, doing things at home, or even just communicating with each other.

This new world needs and values doers, not talkers.

Unfortunately, even the most talented Designers who don’t code are the equivalent of talkers in this example, and Coders are the doers. Yes, Design is absolutely critical to everything we do, and I totally live the whole power of collaboration thing every day myself – but that complete reliance on others to finish the job isn’t going to cut it anymore in this shifting marketplace.

The most valuable person on the team is not the one with the million dollar idea, it’s the person with the ability to actually bring that idea to life quickly. And that value gets exponentially larger when it’s the same person who can both brilliantly envision and skillfully build. That person is called the Coding Designer. And that person is worth their weight in gold to employers and clients.

I’m not saying Designers can or should replace true Developers. Different skillsets (except in the rare case). I am saying the days of being able to skate by without fabricating your designs are numbered Designers, so it’s time to do something about it. You don’t need to become hardcore Devs, but you do need to know how things work in the code world and be able to express your ideas in that medium.

 
 

M. Pell
BIO

Mike Pell is leading Design for The Microsoft Garage, an innovation accelerator turning people’s wild ideas into reality worldwide. The chaotic and ever-changing nature of The Garage presents Mike with continuous opportunities to learn by doing, whether that’s hacking, making or moving ideas forward.

Bold, insightful and uncompromising, Mike is recognized as a thought leader in the field of visualization, expert in the radical simplification of experiences, and a strong presenter at conferences.

His career in high tech has covered the gamut from intrepid entrepreneur, to venture-backed startup veteran, to corporate man for Adobe and Microsoft over the last three decades.

www.futuristic.com

 

See this recent post for more on this topic:
https://futuristic.com/2015/07/15/designers-adapt-or-die/

 

Current Thinking

Designers: Adapt or Die.

The writing is on the wall, and it’s in 400 pt Helvetica… Learn to code or be irrelevant.

 

designers_adapt_or_die

If you’re a Designer in tech and haven’t already noticed that all the young lions coming out of school to take your job (or beat you out for that juicy contract gig) all know how to write some kind of code or script, you really should pay a bit more attention.

It’s time to make a choice that your livelihood in this industry will depend on.


bigquoteThe day is quickly coming where we’ll have no use for you if you can’t design AND code.


Really. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. Understand it. Internalize it. And then decide to do something about it.

If you don’t already script or code try codeacademy.com or code.org to get started.

 

< You > Don’t fast prototyping tools count? < /You >
< Me > No. Not without the ability to go off script (bad pun).< /Me >

 


< awkward >
 silence < /awkward >

 

< You > OK, hold on. That’s just plain wrong. Why would you even think that’s the case? < /You >

< Me > Well, let’s start with the obvious – we’re all in the midst of a colossal shift to a Maker/Hacker mindset and approach to just about everything we do – whether that be creating products, providing services, doing things at home, or even just communicating with each other.

This new world needs and values doers, not talkers.

Unfortunately, even the most talented Designers who don’t code are the equivalent of talkers in this example, and Coders are the doers. Why? Design work without the ability to be experienced falls short. Yes, Design is absolutely critical to everything we do, and I totally live the whole power of collaboration thing every day myself – but that complete reliance on others to finish the job isn’t going to cut it anymore in this shifting marketplace. < /Me >

 

< You > Whatever. Why should I believe anything you have to say about this anyway? < /You >

< Me > Maybe you shouldn’t – but honestly I’ve seen this happening every day with big and small teams alike, and experienced it myself from both perspectives (being a Designer and Coder) and the conclusion is inescapable.

The most valuable person on the team is not the one with the million dollar idea, it’s the person with the ability to actually bring that idea to life quickly. And that value gets exponentially larger when it’s the same person who can both brilliantly envision and skillfully build. That person is called the Coding Designer. And that person is worth their weight in gold to employers and clients.

I’m not saying Designers can or should replace true Developers. Different skillsets (except in the rare case). I am saying the days of being able to skate by without fabricating your designs are numbered Designers, so it’s time to do something about it. You don’t need to become hardcore Devs, but you do need to know how things work in the code world and be able to express your ideas in that medium. < /Me >

 

< You > Still not buying this. Where’s your so called proof? < You />

< Me > OK, since nothing I say will convince you, let’s be a bit scientific and data-driven here. We’ll depend on your observation of real people in real situations to be our guide.

      1. Go to a Hackathon
        Look around at all the college kids and people in the early stages of their careers. You’ll notice something that’s almost a universal constant – there are very few Designers to be found in relation to the number of Developers. And the Designers who show up are surely in high demand. Aha! You say, that refutes your key point right? No, you’re missing the point. In a time-sensitive, pressure packed situation like a hackathon, speed and working prototypes win. Same goes for the real marketplaces of the world, but let’s stick to the hackathon example. Now let’s imagine if all of those Designers could also code. What impact would that have on the output and quality of the final hacks? Hint: a HUGE one. Coding Designers are priceless in situations that require rapid prototyping of new ideas. Ask around.
      1. Observe Makers
        Find a Maker garage near you. The key attribute of people you’ll find there as part of the Do It Yourself (DIY) or Maker movement is the desire and ability to build things themselves. It’s true they often collaborate on designing whatever it is they are interested in, but nothing stops them from moving their idea forward. This same behavior has existed forever in the product development world, but the difference is functions were compartmentalized and often gated. Conversely, Makers and organizations with Maker-mentalities need the ability to force things into being quickly so hypothesis can be tested out and designs revised as needed. In those cases, Design and Coding/Fabrication are skills found within the same person. Not saying they’re rockstars at both necessarily, but the more each person involved can accomplish themselves to achieve the desired outcome, the faster everything goes toward reaching the stated goal. True that design may suffer a bit and code quality may suffer a bit, but the result is out there in the world quicker and can be adjusted as needed.
      1. Talk to a Product Development Team
        Big or small, new or experienced – ask anyone on the team if they’d rather have an awesome Designer who can’t code, or a pretty good Designer who does, and see what they say. And remember – don’t be offended. It’s just business. Every team faces the same challenges – there’s never enough people, time and money to get the job done as quickly as it needs to be. So, if there’s a chance to have someone capable of doing more than one role sign ’em up. Even better if they’re both the tip of spear and the person digging in the dirt. Designers who can conceptualize, ideate, and then jump right in and code it up so it can be used and evaluated by others are the future of that role. Those who can’t are still awesome, but nowhere near as valuable to the team.

It may sound like I’m down on Designers who don’t code. Not at all. You are the engine that’s driving many of our brightest innovations forward. No one disputes that. I’m just saying that you need to pay more attention to what’s happening around you while you’re heads down in Photoshop and making wireframes.

The game has changed. Adapt and evolve by learning to code, or face becoming extinct.

< /Me >

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